KOLKATA, India (Reuters) - The police arrested around 150 people protesting against a breakdown in law and order in Kolkata on Thursday, after street battles broke out during a march to police headquarters and police cars were set ablaze.
Regional and national leaders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) staged the march to protest against a perceived deterioration in security in the state of West Bengal, which is ruled by a rival left-wing party.
West Bengal, with a population of nearly 100 million, has a long history of political violence. Modi’s BJP is seeking to make political gains in the state, where the Trinamool Congress of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee won re-election in 2016.
Clashes broke out after thousands of protesters, marching along three routes, found their way barricaded by police. Police staged baton charges, fired tear gas and deployed water cannon in an attempt to disperse crowds.
Crude bombs were thrown by protesters from the BJP, said Vineet Goyal, Joint Commissioner of Kolkata Police. These set off smoke but did not cause damage or injuries, according to witnesses, while protesters overturned and set ablaze police vehicles.
Senior police officials said about 150 BJP workers and leaders had been taken into custody, among them Kailash Vijayvargiya, a general secretary of the BJP who heads the party organisation in West Bengal. Several officers were injured.
In a series of tweets, Vijayvargiya accused the police of carrying out “brutal” baton charges on protesters.
Reporting by Subrata Nagchaudhury; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Nick Macfie